Eye Loves Rockstars in the Redwoods

Kym Kemp / Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010 @ 9:18 a.m. /  Humboldt

The Arcata Eye received an invitation to talk to some of the top redwood scientists about the Redwood and Climate Change Initiative and, lucky for me, I got to be the one who joined them under the shade of the tallest trees in the world.  The piece is in this week’s Eye and online.  Here is an excerpt but I recommend you go learn about the whole amazing project—Which includes that redwood trees are growing faster now (in the last 100 years) than they’ve ever grown before!

HUMBOLDT – For centuries, the coastal redwoods and giant sequoias have stood as tightly furled scrolls holding ancient writings inscribed by rain and fog and drought.

Today, a group of scientists, with the help of technology, has crafted a way to read those scrolls without destroying them. With the information gathered, the Save the Redwoods League (which is funding the team) hopes to create strategies to protect these living towers from the impact of climate change….

Not only [with the information they are gathering] can scientists begin to see climate across the region back through time but “We can reconstruct climate if we can correlate …the variation in ring width with past climate records….”

By carefully taking the wood from each one of these little rings (once they’ve been cross dated), we know the exact year this particular ring was formed. We can then take that piece of wood and analyze it… we can… get a lot of information about the environmental conditions that were occurring at the time that that wood was being produced… For example, fog water has a particular isotopic signature…as opposed to rain water …”

…As the team worked together using all their different areas of expertise, one of the surprising pieces of information they discovered was that the redwoods are growing faster than they ever have before. Using the rings, the researchers can now tell how big a tree was at any given time in the past. And they can see, according to Sillett, “the rate of wood production is nearly twice as high as it was in 1900. We’re not sure why. We’re not sure what that means at the whole forest level. [But] these trees…are growing faster now than they have grown… ever.”

You can also check out who the scientists are and some of the amazing things they do here. The scientist furthest to the right in the photo above is Steven Sillet, star of the National Geographic specials about climbing the redwoods to observe them from high in the air.   Several of my science minded friends got giggly and girly when I said his name.  Apparently he is the scientist equivalent of  a rock star.

Save the Redwoods is looking for donations to help them study these amazing trees and study the changes in our climate.

Related tags: humboldt-redwoods, redwood-and-climate-change-initiative, using-redwood-rings-to-learn-about-climate-change


  • my theory on the increased growth rate is that more available carbon equals greater growth… indoor growers already use something like this. Our home terrarium (earth) seems to have a lot of these self-regulating features and systems built in. I LOVE THIS PLACE! And the creator. mark
  • Is it just my imagination (as I was very young when I heard this) that logging companies were replanting harvests with a type of straighter & faster-growing redwood? Anyone?
    Just wondering, if it is indeed true, if, perhaps there has been some cross pollination.
  • What a great photo Kym.

    I love Redwood Trees. They always feel make me feel like I’m in God’s house when I walk through groves. There’s a sense of timelessness, awe, and majestic splendor that sends shrivers down my spine - even when I think about it - or see a photo like this.

    thanks for sharing
  • One of my favorite books is “The Wild Trees” by Richard Preston. It documents the discovery of some some of the tallest redwoods on record, and tells the fascinating story of how naturalists came to climb the redwoods and live in their canopies in order to better study them.


    I’m with Dave. When I hike around the redwood groves, I’m so overwhelmed that I can’t articulate even the most basic of emotions. I just walk around with my mouth agape, saying “Oooh! Oooh!” over and over.

    Kym, you are so very lucky to have had this opportunity. Thank you for the wonderful post!
  • In response to Tj
    I love how the earth appears to be trying to heal itself, too. The scientists are worried though that much like someone who’s pituitary gland is working too hard and making them too tall and thus they suffer other health issues so too the redwoods might suffer (ie the “arteries that bring water to the top have been known to break and the crowns die.)
  • In response to Heather
    I haven’t heard that but it sure could be true. However, it is the thousand year old ones are also growing at this sped up rate so it couldn’t apply to them.
  • In response to Dave
    I feel the same way, too!
  • Steve Sillet and Marie Antone (stars of that book) were both there. She told me a wonderful story about how one day she was up in a 30 foot redwood and heard noises below and looked around. Nothing to the left. Nothing to the right. Nothing behind. She finally went back to her work and finished.

    She started down the tree. It was “30 foot” so she got down quickly. Just as she touched ground a big black bear ambled off into the bushes. She was glad that the bear wasn’t in a nasty mood!

    Apparently, the bears love the sapwood on the younger redwoods and will tear into them to get it. There has been a problem with them killing too many of the young trees.
  • First I want to say that I love redwood trees like no other tree. I agree with Dave that there is nothing more majestic than walking in a redwood grove, especially in May when all the sorrel, ferns and underbrush is in full growth and green.

    The only thing that surprises me is that your group didn’t know that the redwoods are growing faster. Why didn’t you just ask a logger, or a lumber company.

    One of the worlds foremost forestry professors told me years ago that thinning a redwood forest will double it’s growth, and hence it’s timber production. A wild fire going through a forest will also double it’s growth rate.

    The thing that I fear, and I said this many times, is that fools are going to love these tree to death. They protect them like they are domestic pets. They allow the brush, trash and duff to gather under and around the trees until they stop thriving. If they don’t get a fire or some other form of cleansing they WILL die. Usually from the tops down, as in the Jordan creek area north of Redcrest. If the duff and trash gets deep enough it will cause a fungus that attacks the roots of the redwood. (Armillaria Root Rot) Also the underbrush will compete for nutrients and starve the redwood. The underbrush will also use all the water. Stressed redwood easily succumb to rots.

    I give up… People are going to love and study the redwoods, while steadily killing them. I don’t see much hope for the future of redwood trees if scientists and environmentalists are just figuring out that redwood thrive on pruning logging and fire.

    It’s time to stop loving redwoods and simply learn about them… Before they’re gone.
  • Fuel ladders.

    Problem with redwoods is they were isolated by cutting. Folks cut them down, planted farms, and called it grassland.

    Redwoods pile up both good dirt and rough debris with their “hand-holding” roots. For forest fires to work, they gotta cut through the whole stand to get it clean. If one forest fire lights and then you got a hundred thousand acres of hemlock and pampas land in between that and the next forest patch, the job don’t get done. Back in the day before white people, one good fire season would fix up the whole woods.
  • “they gotta cut” being forest fires, not clear cutting
  • Just to make it clear, I’m very much against clear cutting. It is not natural or normal. Thinning and selective cutting is okay. Taking out stressed trees is okay. What the Hurwitz class of corporate logger did was not okay. I think that we are all on the same page as to the value of a standing, living, beautiful tree. But wild redwood forests need fire, or cleaning of some sort.

    We are way beyond a normal fire. The forest trees are too close together today. The Indians burned everything that stood close enough to sustain a fire, usually every 5 to 6 years. Underbrush, weak trees, and ground duff was kept clear.
  • In response to Ernie’s Place
    Ernie, I was fascinated to hear one of the scientists allude to wishing that there were fires in the groves.
  • In response to Ernie’s Place
    Personally, I wouldn’t ask a logger about that kind of information. Unless they had some backup for their opinion like photos and measurements. Unfortunately, most of their work was quickly hauled and cut apart into lumber.

    But I have not seen any loggers enthusiastically photograph cross-cuts of their work with measurements: identifying rings to match to dates and climate data. If you know of any logger’s archives, please list them. It would be interesting to see what they preserved.
  • In response to Kym Kemp
    Last spring, I went to the University of Oregon, to hear Prof. Sillett & Dr. Van Pelt talk about this. I recall them saying that some of the old growth redwoods were growing faster in the recent decades, and could put on more wood volume than younger redwoods.

    But I don’t remember them saying that younger redwoods were not growing faster also, compared to growth of comparable size young trees one or two centuries earlier. It may be that both young and old are growing faster, with the old growth putting on the most wood volume.
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